New study found CTE in the brains of former professional soccer players

Posted February 16, 2017

According to Ling, more studies need to be conducted because of the small sample size: The findings can not be applied to a wider scale as of yet, and more research needs to be done in order to see whether or not dementia is more common in soccer players than the in the average population.

Now that may be changing: In a paper published Tuesday in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, University College of London researchers who conducted post-mortem exams of the brains of six former professional United Kingdom soccer players found all six had Alzheimer's.

Footballers who repeatedly head the ball can end up suffering from dementia, new findings suggest.

The study was published in Acta Neuropathologica on Wednesday.

The cases all played regularly for an average of 26 years. The research is so important for current players and for future players.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Don Williams, who ran the study from the Swansea service, said he was motivated to do so after being approached by a man whose footballer father had been diagnosed with dementia, and who wanted to know if headers could be the cause.

A potential cause of dementia thought to arise from blows to the head has been confirmed in a group of retired footballers for the first time, prompting Dawn Astle to ask authorities to stop pushing the issue "under the carpet".

From 1980 to 2010, researchers at the University College of London followed 14 retired male soccer players with dementia until their deaths. Dr Helen Ling, who led the research, said this was the first time CTE had been confirmed in retired footballers.

"They're two potential brain disorders that can cause dementia", she said after the study was presented to the media in London.

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Dawn Astle said she does not believe enough support is being given: "The PFA's whole goal is to look after former players, but what have they done, in 15 years since Dad died?"

Critics say the sport's governing body has been slow to act on the possible risk from heading, despite the long list of famous players who have suffered from dementia.

The rate of CTE identified in the footballers' brains exceeds the 12% average background rate of CTE found in a previous survey of 268 brains of an unselected population at the Queen Square Brain Bank.

"Further research is needed to shed light on how lifestyle factors such as playing sport may alter dementia risk, and how this sits in the context of the well-established benefits of being physically active". The researchers acknowledged the small sample and limited nature of the study and called for wider and larger inquiries to be undertaken.

Researchers also found evidence of Alzheimer's disease and other types of neurodegeneration, suggesting various factors contributed to the dementia. If there was a suspicion of concussion the player must be removed from play, he said.

"Fortunately, football (soccer) does not belong to the high-risk sports for brain and head injuries".

The Football Association says it will look at this area more closely. But football is unique compared with boxing and American football in that blows to the head, as they are commonly more minor and less likely to cause significant neurological symptoms or loss of consciousness to football players.

She added: "The FA is determined to support this research and is also committed to ensuring that any research process is independent, robust and thorough, so that when the results emerge, everyone in the game can be confident in its findings".

The research was funded by the UK-based not-for-profit The Drake Foundation.